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USE AND EFFECTIVENESS OF BILLBOARDS

Perspectives from Selective-Perception Theory and Retail-Gravity Models


Charles R. Taylor, George R. Franke, and Hae-Kyong Bang

ABSTRACT: A survey reveals four primary reasons why businesses use billboard advertising: visibility, media efficiency,
local presence, and tangible response. Insights on the relative importance of these factors are provided by retail-gravity
models and selective-perception theory, along with recency planning in media strategy. The study also identifies eight
executional factors that are associated with successful billboard advertising: name identification, location of the billboard,
readability, clarity of the message, use as a tool of integrated marketing communications (IMC), powerful visuals, clever
creative, and information provision. Moderating effects of company size, company type, and level of billboard usage
are examined. The results go beyond existing textbook and trade-press discussions to document the factors that make
billboards an important promotional tool.

Recent years have seen growth in outdoor advertising rev- The growth of outdoor advertising has included a consider-
enues. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of able increase in the use of nontraditional formats, including
America, annual revenues were $2.8 billion in 1993; over the street furniture (e.g., bus shelters, kiosks), alternative media
following 10 years, expenditures almost doubled, increasing (e.g., arenas and stadiums, airborne, marine), and transit (e.g.,
to $5.5 billion in 2003. This rise has occurred in spite of the buses, airports). The focus of this study is on billboards, however,
loss of cigarette advertising on billboards due to the Master which remain the most common form of outdoor advertising.
Settlement Agreement of 1998 and a decline in the relative Numerous academic articles, textbooks, and industry
proportion of billboards for alcoholic beverages (OAAA 2004). publications list key advantages and disadvantages of outdoor
In recent years, a broader range of product categories has been advertising/billboards in comparison to other media. No prior
advertised on billboards, led by a variety of retail and service study has examined managerial perceptions of the primary rea-
businesses. Zenith Optimedia classifies outdoor advertising as sons for using billboards, however. Moreover, despite numerous
a “major medium,” along with television, radio, newspapers, discussions of factors associated with billboard advertising
magazines, the Internet, and cinema. Zenith Optimedia proj- success, the literature does not address the attributes of the
ects continued growth in outdoor advertising expenditures, medium that users see as the primary factors associated with
and ranks outdoor as the fifth largest advertising medium successful billboard advertising.
worldwide, behind only television, newspapers, magazines, The purpose of this paper is to address these gaps in the lit-
and radio (Zenith Optimedia 2005). Despite revenue growth, erature by reporting the results of a survey of businesses that use
however, outdoor advertising remains “one of the least re- or have used billboard advertising. The issues addressed are:
searched of any mass medium” (Katz 2003, p. 92). Even among
the limited number of studies that have been conducted, few 1. What are the primary reasons that companies decide to
have focused on what factors drive its effectiveness (Donthu, continue using billboards? What is the relative importance
Cherian, and Bhargava 1993). of these reasons?
2. What strategic and executional factors do managers
Charles R. Taylor (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is the John A. believe are critical to the success of a billboard campaign?
Murphy Professor of Marketing, College of Commerce and Finance, 3. What is the relationship between the reasons for using
Villanova University. billboards and the strategic and executional factors necessary
George R. Franke (Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel for success?
Hill) is a Professor and Reese Phifer Fellow of Marketing, Culver-
house College of Commerce and Business Administration, University This study first examines why companies use billboards,
of Alabama.
Hae-Kyong Bang (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is an as- The paper was funded by the Department of Management and Mar-
sociate professor of marketing, College of Commerce and Finance, keting at the University of Alabama and the Center for Marketing
Villanova University. and Public Policy Research at Villanova University.
Journal of Advertising, vol. 35, no. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 21–34.
© 2006 American Academy of Advertising. All rights reserved.
ISSN 0091-3367 / 2006 $9.50 + 0.00.
DOI 10.2753/JOA0091-3367350402
22 The Journal of Advertising

and then considers how to use them effectively. It also intro- whether advertisers were following accepted creative principles
duces two theoretical perspectives, based on gravity models associated with outdoor advertising. Drawing on Burton’s Adver-
and selective perception, to aid in a better understanding of tising Copywriting (1983) and the Traffic Audit Bureau’s Planning
what drives the effectiveness of outdoor advertising. The re- for Out-of-Home Media (1977), Blasko listed five main principles
mainder of the paper contains a review of academic research of effective billboard advertising: (1) short copy (eight or fewer
on the characteristics of billboard advertising, followed by a words in copy), (2) simple background, (3) product identification
description of the conceptual framework guiding the study. (billboard clearly identifies product or advertiser), (4) simple
The study’s methods are then described, results are discussed, message (single message communicated), and (5) creative (use
and implications and conclusions are drawn. of clever phrases and/or illustrations).
Studies conducted by Donthu, Cherian, and Bhargava
LITERATURE REVIEW (1993) and Bhargava, Donthu, and Caron (1994) found recall
of billboards to be positively related to a variety of factors,
including brand differentiation, emphasis on product perfor-
Characteristics of Billboards Versus Other Media
mance, inclusion of price, use of a photograph, use of humor,
Textbook authors and academic researchers have identified a use of color, and a good location for the billboard. The 1993
variety of distinctive characteristics of billboards and outdoor study emphasized that advertising recall can be enhanced by
advertising (e.g., Kelley and Jugenheimer 2004; Sissors and using fewer words or unusual executions.
Baron 2002; Taylor 1997; Vanden Bergh and Katz 1999; As with the key advantages of outdoor advertising, there
Woodside 1990). The advantages of using billboards include, have been many discussions of strategic and executional fac-
among other things: (1) potential placement of the advertise- tors related to the success of billboards, but little systematic
ment close to the point of sale, (2) high frequency of exposure investigation of the underlying factors that drive successful
to regular commuters, (3) high reach, (4) 24-hour presence, billboard advertising. Below, we offer some insight on these
(5) geographic flexibility for local advertisers, (6) economic factors by providing two theoretical perspectives on the pro-
efficiency in terms of low production costs and low cost per motional role of billboards.
thousand exposures, (7) visual impact from advertisement
size and message creativity, and (8) brand awareness. Disad- CONCEPTUAL RATIONALE AND HYPOTHESES
vantages include: (1) the need to limit the number of words
in the message, (2) short exposure to the advertisement, (3) Two theoretical perspectives are used as a basis for hypotheses
low demographic selectivity, and (4) measurement problems. in this study. First, because humans have limited informa-
A recent study of billboard users found that compared with tion-processing capacity, part of the attraction of billboards
other media, billboards were rated higher in terms of ability involves their ability to cut through clutter. To deal with the
to (1) communicate information affordably, (2) attract new large volume of advertisements shown, people engage in selective
customers, and (3) increase sales (Taylor and Franke 2003). perception, which involves screening out advertisements that are
While many advantages of billboards have been identified less relevant to them (Celsi and Olson 1988; Mowen and Minor
anecdotally, from experience, or through academic study, there 1998). Second, because a billboard appears at a specific loca-
is a need to investigate whether frequently listed advantages tion, many of its advantages are linked to geographic factors.
overlap with each other, and to examine whether they truly As is suggested by gravity models in retailing (e.g., Allaway,
are advantages that are important to billboard users. Berkowitz, and D’Souza 2003; Bell, Ho, and Tang 1998), in
the absence of a compelling stimulus such as substantially
Executional Factors Associated with larger floor space for selling, consumers are more prone to
the Success of Billboards shop closer to home.

Relatively few studies have attempted to examine executional Selective Perception and Clutter
factors associated with the effectiveness of billboard advertis-
ing. However, a few have provided very specific advice for A key obstacle to advertising effectiveness is the volume of
outdoor advertisers. In examining the outcomes of outdoor advertising to which consumers are exposed. Godin (1999)
advertising, some studies found that a novel or very creative reports that an average consumer is exposed to approximately
execution could improve recall or attention to billboards (Fitts one million marketing messages every year. To help manage
and Hewett 1977; Hewett 1975). Thus, use of a clever creative this volume of information, consumers control their own infor-
execution is one factor that has been hypothesized to correlate mation processing and engage in selective perception, which
with effective outdoor advertising. leads to processing only a limited number of advertisements
In a content analysis of billboards, Blasko (1985) examined and ignoring many others.
Winter 2006 23

Selective perception has been conceptualized as a four-part advantage of an alternative (such as larger floor space), consum-
process consisting of selective exposure, attention, compre- ers will shop closer to home. Building on Reilly’s law, Huff
hension, and retention. In an advertising context, selective (1964) focused on the spatial behavior of shoppers. At the
exposure refers to people limiting the communications they heart of Huff’s law is the notion that travel time to a shopping
see and hear to those that conform to their preexisting ideas center is inversely related to the likelihood of shopping there.
and attitudes (Burgoon, Hunsaker, and Dawson 1994). Se- In other words, the greater the distance to the shopping area,
lective attention refers to actually paying attention to the the less likely the consumer is to make a trip there. Huff and
advertisement once exposed to it. Selective comprehension subsequent modelers (e.g., Bell, Ho, and Tang 1998) have
involves the process by which the consumer reconciles the examined factors that can induce consumers to travel further.
advertisement’s content with preexisting beliefs. Finally, The overriding assumption of these models is that some ad-
selective retention is defined as remembering messages that ditional attraction must be present to offset distance, thereby
are more consistent with one’s prior beliefs and one’s own making close locational proximity an advantage in most retail
self-image. When related to advertising, these four stages contexts.
generally must occur before the advertisement reaches the Because gravity models suggest that consumers have a
consumer. At a minimum, attention and retention must take natural preference for traveling shorter distances and shop-
place (Assael 1981). As a result, advertisers must consider ping at nearby places, it follows that billboards that point the
how selective perception is affecting their ability to get a consumer to a nearby location will have a stronger influence
message through to consumers. on store traffic and sales. The idea that billboards located in
Because of the heavy volume of advertising to which con- close proximity to the store are advantageous from a gravity
sumers are exposed, they must decide which advertisements perspective is also consistent with the media-planning ad-
to screen out and which to process. As media-planning expert vantages of billboards, namely, high reach and frequency in a
Erwin Ephron has observed, outdoor advertising is unique in local trade area. A study by Allaway, Berkowitz, and D’Souza
that people are not involved in the medium as they would be (2003) supports the notion that the billboards in close prox-
when watching a television program or reading the newspaper. imity to a store enhance gravity effects. In examining the
As a result, Ephron (2004) has described outdoor advertising spatial diffusion of a loyalty card for a major U.S. retailer, the
as a unique case in which the “medium is the message.” When authors found a relationship between distance from the store
driving by a billboard, a motorist is not bombarded with other and likelihood of signing up quickly. They also found a sig-
media options, so selective perception is not as much of an nificant billboard effect, stating, “Even within the 0–3-mile
obstacle as in some other media. Although the short exposure ring nearest the store, non-adopters were significantly further
time and lack of involvement in the medium mandate that from the nearest billboard than adopters” (p. 144). Allaway
higher frequency of exposure is necessary for billboards to have and Berkowitz (2006) further found that residents who lived
the same impact as other media (Cannon and Riordan 1994; within two miles of a billboard advertising the program had a
Murray and Jenkins 1992), the ability to cut through a clut- 26% higher probability of adoption during the launch period,
tered advertising environment is a key benefit of billboards. and that the speed of adoption was influenced by the number
In short, billboards have a special advantage in that they are of billboards within two miles of the resident. Additional
generally seen in a setting where there is less competition for evidence for the influence of locational elements on billboard
people’s attention. As a result, they may appeal to advertisers effectiveness is provided by Bhargava and Donthu (1999),
because of their ability to get noticed, especially at times and who found that sales response to billboards is influenced by
places when consumers are considering a purchase or are ready location of exposure.
to buy (e.g., billboards for tourist attractions, retail stores, In addition to academic research suggesting that billboard
and restaurants). There are, of course, some contexts in which effectiveness is related to location, the well-documented fact
billboards are used for brand building and/or supplementing that most retail businesses draw most of their customers from
other media, but the recent shift toward local retail and service a limited geographic area supports the application of gravity
businesses accounting for a high proportion of billboards is models to billboards. For example, Nelson and Niles (2000)
indicative of the applicability of billboards being present at cite data from the International Council of Shopping Centers
the right time (e.g., when a motorist is looking to stop for a that indicate that a neighborhood strip mall’s primary trade
meal). area is consumers within 3 miles, whereas regional malls draw
from 5 to 15 miles, and outlet malls from 25 to 75 miles. In
Gravity Models addition, data from the National Association of RV Parks and
Campgrounds based on studies from state tourism depart-
Dating back to Reilly’s law of retail gravitation (Reilly 1931), ments show that travelers generally do not consider dining,
it has been theorized that in the absence of a known major accommodation, and entertainment options until 30 to 60
24 The Journal of Advertising

minutes prior to making a stop. While the primary trade area medium. An a priori case can be made for a prediction in either
for retailers and service business can range from very small for direction, indicating that neither an exploratory approach nor
small businesses such as independent restaurants, gas stations, the specification of a single dominant hypothesis is appropri-
and convenience stores, to being considerably larger, as in the ate (Armstrong, Brodie, and Parsons 2001). Therefore, we
case of amusement parks or large shopping malls, the need to develop alternative competing hypotheses without choosing
reach consumers in the local area is readily apparent. one over the other.
The locational advantages of outdoor advertising are con- Findings of gravity models have consistently verified the
sistent with the need to engage in “recency planning” (Ephron importance of location in retailing (e.g., Allaway, Berkowitz,
1997). In the modern environment, advertising works by and D’Souza 2003; Bell, Ho, and Tang 1998; Huff 1964;
influencing those who are ready to buy. In this new model, Reilly 1931). As a result, it can be argued that exposure to an
“consumers control messages by screening-out most and se- advertisement in close proximity to a retail outlet can be more
lecting only a few that are relevant to them at the time. The valuable than exposures that take place farther away. In essence,
new model accepts the relevance that what makes ads work because of the tendency for consumers not to drive farther than
is provided by what is happening in the consumer’s life and they deem necessary to get to a retail location, exposure to the
seldom by the advertising” (Ephron 1997, p. 61). The ability advertisement in close proximity to the store may be of key
to avoid being screened out via selective perception processes importance. Thus, one reasonable hypothesis is:
allows many billboards to get noticed at the point at which
H1a: Gravity-related factors are more important than selective-
the driver is considering a purchase.
perception factors in the decision to use billboards.

Hypotheses and Research Questions An alternative case can be made for the central importance
of overcoming selective perception. In a cluttered environment,
Billboard characteristics that influence a business to use the where many advertisements compete for attention, it is critical
medium may pertain, in part, to both gravity and selective- for advertising to get noticed and, in turn, processed by the
perception issues. In terms of providing advantages for bill- consumer. Because advertisements that are not noticed will
board users, however, two broad factors can be categorized as not be effective, high visibility and frequency of exposure at
being more closely associated with gravity, while two others an affordable price may be key contributors to the message
are more closely associated with selective perception. The fac- being perceived and in it having an impact. We therefore
tors more closely linked to gravity are tangible response and local hypothesize that
presence. Tangible response refers to the ability of billboards
H1b: Selective-perception factors are more important than
to bring in customers, increase traffic, and build sales. There
gravity-related factors as a reason for using billboards.
is widespread agreement that a billboard’s ability to attract
customers is closely linked to its proximity to the place of Prior research has suggested that many smaller businesses
business (e.g., Taylor and Franke 2003), thereby linking this and travel-related retailers, such as hotels, restaurants, and
factor to gravity models. The ability to build a local presence tourist attractions, often use billboards as a central part of their
based on providing a “last hit” close to the place of business is media mix (Taylor and Franke 2003). Therefore, in conjunc-
also linked to retail gravity. Furthermore, the gravity model tion with testing these hypotheses, we will also address the
is linked to Ephron’s concept of recency planning, in that a following research question:
billboard’s proximity to the place of business enhances the RQ1: Do the reasons for using billboards vary by number of
likelihood of a stop at a time when the consumer is ready billboards used per month, company size, or company type?
to buy. Thus, gravity helps explain the place advantage that
billboards have over other media.
Two factors that are more closely tied to selective-perception Factors Associated with Effectiveness
theory are visibility and media efficiency. Visibility, which refers The literature suggests that for a billboard to be effective, it
to the ability of a billboard to make a strong visual impression, must communicate a relevant message in a clear, interesting,
allows billboards to break through the clutter. Media efficiency, and readable manner to the appropriate audience. It must also
such as broad and frequent exposure to the target audience, be at an appropriate location in order to be seen by the target
suggests that the medium is effective and cost-efficient since audience. Therefore, a straightforward expectation is that
it is being noticed even in a competitive environment. message, format, and location are important factors associ-
Although the literature indicates that both the gravity ated with the effectiveness of billboard advertising. Relevant
and selective-perception factors are important advantages of message factors include name identification and other infor-
billboards, it is not clear which factors are more important to mation about the company or its products, the creativity of
businesses in terms of their reasons for continuing to use the execution, and the integration of the billboard content with
Winter 2006 25

the company’s other promotional messages. Format factors 5,000 companies known to have used billboards. A survey was
include the readability of the verbal message, the brevity and sent to 1,315 companies selected from the list using a simple
simplicity with which the message is presented, and support random-sampling technique. The cover letter promised con-
of the verbal message with effective visuals. Location involves fidentiality of responses and offered respondents a summary
the appropriateness of where the billboard is placed. report of the findings upon request. Five weeks after the initial
Individual executional factors can be equally important mailing, a follow-up mailing was sent to firms that had not
for both gravity and selective-perception views of the role of yet responded.
billboards. Location, for example, can relate both to the vicin- Usable responses were obtained from 348 companies, in-
ity of the business (gravity) and to an attention-getting spot cluding 16 not currently using billboards. This small group
near a stoplight or highway (selective perception). We propose of nonusers was kept in the analyses to broaden the range
that the success factors arise as a result of both theoretical of available perspectives on billboard usage. Another 171
perspectives. As a result, our goal is to identify latent factors surveys were unusable or returned as undeliverable, produc-
that lead to successful advertising on billboards. Therefore, ing an effective response rate of 30.4%. This response rate,
rather than trying to develop competing hypotheses about the though not high in historic terms, is comparable to those of
relative importance of the different success factors, we pose a many recent surveys in the business literature (e.g., Dennis
research question: 2003; Morrison and Haley 2003). Potential nonresponse bias
was assessed in two ways. Respondents to the first mailing
RQ2: What factors are related to the successful use of billboard
were compared with respondents to the second mailing in
advertising, and what is the relative importance of different
terms of the number of employees and billboard usage levels.
billboard success factors?
The differences were not significant, suggesting that non-
We also pose the following question about potential modera- response bias based on these dimensions was not a concern.
tors of success-factor perceptions: In addition, follow-up phone calls were made to a sample
of nonrespondents. Commonly cited reasons for failing to
RQ3: Do perceptions of the factors related to the successful use respond included lack of time, company policies against
of billboard advertising vary by billboard usage, company size, filling out surveys, and the discontinued employment of the
or company type? person to whom the mailing was addressed. These reasons
The fourth research question ties together the decision to do not appear to be related to factors that would likely cause
continue using billboards with the factors that billboard users bias in the results.
believe are critical to success. Specifically, do the success factors
relate to the reasons for using billboards? If so, how? Too many Measures
alternatives are possible to allow the development of plausible
competing hypotheses. For example, companies that think In developing questionnaire items for reasons to use billboards
visibility is an important reason to continue using billboards and for executional effectiveness, we reviewed textbooks and
could depend on any combination of message, format, or lo- academic articles and conducted extensive interviews with
cation issues for the eye-catching success of their billboards. more than 20 personnel in outdoor advertising firms and
Therefore, the present study will attempt to answer: general advertising firms. Some internal company documents
were also examined. The preliminary list of items was pretested
RQ4: How do the factors considered essential to billboard success on a group of six industry executives, and the final question-
depend on the company’s reason to continue using billboards? naire was written based on feedback provided. For the items
Finally, we pose the following question involving the same measuring reasons for using billboards, seven-point scales
moderators as above: ranging from “not at all influential” to “highly influential”
were used. For the executional factors, seven-point scales with
RQ5: Do billboard usage, company size, or company type the endpoints “not critical” and “critical” were used.
moderate the influence of reasons to continue using billboards on To determine whether the items went together as expected,
factors related to the successful use of billboard advertising? they were factor analyzed using principal axis analysis with
squared communalities on the diagonal of the correlation
METHOD matrix. Because varimax rotation gives distorted loadings
when factors are correlated, oblique rotation was used to give
Sample and Procedure a clearer factor structure. Coefficient α was calculated to as-
sess the reliability of the items in each factor, and the scores
The sampling frame used was a national listing, provided by for the individual items were averaged to obtain scale scores
the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, of more than for each factor.
26 The Journal of Advertising

TABLE 1
Profile of Respondents

Frequency Percent

Type of business
Hotel 74 21.4
Restaurant 64 18.5
Retail store 49 14.2
Entertainment/tourism 44 12.7
Advertising or media 21 6.1
Gas station/mini market 17 4.9
Government or nonprofit 16 4.6
Auto dealership 13 3.8
Real estate 11 3.2
Banking and insurance 10 2.9
Manufactured product 6 1.7
Other 21 6.1
Total 346 100.0
Billboards used per month*
0 16 4.6
1 55 15.9
2–4 105 30.4
5–9 62 18.0
10–19 38 11.0
20 or more 69 20.0
Total 345 100.0
Number of employees
10 or less 52 15.2
11 to 25 63 18.4
26 to 50 57 16.6
51 to 100 50 14.6
101 to 500 62 18.1
501 or more 59 17.2
All 343 100.0

* Numbers of usable surveys vary across questions because of missing data. Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding.

Profile of Responding Businesses expected and the scales show acceptable reliabilities, with α
coefficients ranging from .76 to .93. The scale means range from
Table 1 presents a profile of the survey respondents. The re- 5.45 to 5.77, much closer to the “highly influential” value of 7
spondents represent a wide range of business types, including on the response alternatives than the “not at all influential” value
both travel-related businesses (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, of 1. As shown in the table, the factors are labeled as follows:
entertainment/tourism, and gas stations/mini marts) and general
advertisers. Respondents use 0 to 20 or more billboards in a typi-
cal month, with 46% using from 1 to 4. Company size ranges Visibility
from 10 or fewer employees to more than 500. Just over half of
Companies use billboards because they provide high visibility
the companies (50.1%) have 50 or fewer employees, indicating
to the target audience; they are easily seen, make a strong
that small businesses are well represented in the sample.
impression, and are visible 24 hours a day.

RESULTS
Media Efficiency
Hypothesis 1
From a media-planning standpoint, companies use billboards
Table 2 shows means, factor loadings, and scale reliabilities for for their efficiency in terms of reach, frequency, and cost per
items related to reasons for using billboards. The items load as thousand exposures.
Winter 2006 27

TABLE 2
Factors Influencing the Decision to Continue Using Billboards

Standard Item
Factor and items Meana deviation loadingb Coefficient�

Visibility 5.771 1.21 .84


Easily seen and noticed 5.91 1.29 .91
Make a powerful visual impression 5.73 1.37 .79
Visible 24 hours a day 5.67 1.50 .73
Media efficiency 5.632 1.30 .85
Allow for repeated exposures to our message 5.85 1.38 .88
Reach a high proportion of our target audience 5.75 1.48 .82
Are cost effective compared to other media 5.27 1.58 .76
Local presence 5.453 1.31 .76
Generate awareness and name recognition
in close proximity to our business 5.86 1.36 .68
Maintain brand presence in the market
over time and between flights of other media 5.41 1.62 .71
Provide a “last hit” close to the time the
consumer makes a purchase decision 5.08 1.74 .71
Tangible response 5.453 1.48 .93
Bring customers to our place of business 5.57 1.53 .91
Increase our sales 5.41 1.56 .93
Increase shopper/visitor traffic 5.36 1.62 .90
a
Respondents were asked to indicate how influential the items were in their decision to continue using billboards. The response scale ranged from 1 to
7, with 1 = not at all influential and 7 = highly influential. Factor means with different superscripts differ significantly (F > 5.84, p < .02). A planned
contrast of visibility and media efficiency versus local presence and tangible response is also significant (F = 30.45, with 1 and 327 df, p = 0).
b
From a principal axis factor analysis with oblique (promax) rotation. Correlations between factors range from .53 to .68.

Local Presence Research Question 1


Aspects of billboard location that influence use include gener- Table 3 shows the effects of billboard usage (0–4 versus 5 or
ating awareness in close proximity to the business, maintaining more per month), company size (1–50 employees versus 51 or
brand presence, and providing a “last hit” close to the place more), company type (travel-related or not), and their interac-
of business. tions on the reasons for using billboards. The factors are coded
as 1/–1 dummy variables for the main effects, and their two- and
Tangible Response three-way products represent the interaction terms. Using these
predictors in a regression model yields p values for each predic-
Producing a tangible consumer response, such as increasing tor that are identical to those produced by a standard three-way
traffic or sales, also influences a company’s decision to continue analysis of variance. The benefit of the regression approach is
using billboards. that the coefficients directly indicate the magnitudes of the
Table 2 also provides the results for the test of the effects. For example, travel-related companies (Type = 1) rate
competing hypotheses H1a and H1b. While respondents the importance of local presence .16 above the overall mean,
consider all four factors to be influential, the two factors controlling for the effects of the other variables in the model,
that are more related to selective-perception issues (vis- whereas other companies (Type = –1) rate local presence .16
ibility and media efficiency) are each rated significantly below the mean. Significant interaction terms are added to the
higher than those that reflect retail gravity (local presence values of the related main effects plus the grand mean to pro-
and tangible response) (F > 5.84, p < .02). Furthermore, a vide cell means. Visibility, for example, is estimated at 6.00 for
simultaneous comparison of the two gravity factors versus large companies that are heavy billboard users (grand mean of
the two selective-perception factors is highly significant 5.77 + .25 – .22 + .20), and at 5.10 for large companies that
(F = 30.45, p = 0). Therefore, H1b is supported and H1a are light billboard users (5.77 – .25 – .22 − .20).
is contradicted. The main effects in Table 3 indicate that all four reasons to
28 The Journal of Advertising

TABLE 3
Regression of Reasons to Continue Using Billboards on Company Characteristicsa
Dependent Billboard Company Company Use × size
variable R2 use size type Use × size Use × type Size × type × type

Visibility .079** .25** −.22** .10 .20** –.00 −.05 −.01


Media .146** .51** −.26** .02 .19** –.01 −.02 −.09
efficiency
Local .118** .42** −.20* .16* .21** .00 −.01 −.03
presence
Tangible .106** .32** −.39** .28** .16 .00 .15 .01
response
Note: Entries for main effects and interactions are unstandardized regression coefficients for effects-coded indicator variables, interpreted as departures
from the overall mean controlling for the other predictors (e.g., heavy users of billboards rate visibility .25 greater than average, whereas light users rate
visibility .25 lower than average). P values for the coefficients are identical to those from three-way univariate ANOVAs (analyses of variance). All overall
tests have seven df and all factors and interactions have one df. Error df range from 322 to 326.
a
Billboard use is heavy (5 or more) versus light (0–4) billboards used per month. Company size is large (51 or more employees) versus small (50 or fewer
employees). Company type is travel-related (hotels, restaurants, retail stores, entertainment/tourism, and gas stations/mini marts) versus nontravel-related
(all other).
* p < .05.
** p < .01.

continue using billboards are rated higher by heavy users and endpoints of the response alternatives. The relative magnitudes
smaller companies. Travel-related companies also give higher of the means answer RQ2, and regressions similar to those
ratings than other companies to local presence and tangible shown in Table 3 answer RQ3.
response to billboards. However, the main effects of billboard
usage and company size are qualified by significant two-way Name Identification, Location, Readability, and Clarity
interactions for visibility, efficiency, and presence. (The interac-
tion for response approaches significance, with p = .068.) Four factors have mean ratings above six on a seven-point
For visibility, large companies that are light users of bill- scale, ranging from 6.02 to 6.50. The highest-rated factor,
boards give relatively lower ratings (M = 5.10) than other name identification, refers to the need to get the company
companies (means range from 5.94 to 6.04). Media efficiency or brand name across to the consumer. Next are location and
is high in importance to heavy users of billboards regardless readability. Location involves whether the billboard is at an
of company size (small, M = 6.21; large, M = 6.07), less im- effective site, and readability involves how well the typeface,
portant to small companies that make lower use of billboards colors, and contrast contribute to legibility. In fourth place is
(M = 5.57), and considerably less important to large light users clarity. Clarity contributes to readability, though it deals more
(M = 4.66). A similar pattern is found for the importance of with whether the billboard has an obvious, concise message
local presence, with comparable means for heavy users (small, than with how the message is actually presented.
M = 5.85; large, M = 5.88), a lower mean for small light users
(5.44), and an even lower mean for large light users (4.62). Fi- Integrated Marketing Communications and Visuals
nally, tangible response is most important to small companies
that make heavy use of billboards (M = 6.00), least important These two factors have mean ratings above five on the seven-
to large light users (M = 4.58), and in-between for small light point scale. The integrated marketing communications factor
users (M = 5.68) and large heavy users (M = 5.55). (IMC; M = 5.24) comprises two questions about the message
reinforcing an overall communications strategy. Three ques-
Research Questions 2 and 3 tions about billboards’ visual elements form the visuals factor
(M = 5.12).
Table 4 shows that the items designed to assess perceptions
of the factors critical to billboard success go together to form Creative and Information
eight scales. Three scales have relatively low reliabilities, rang-
ing from .62 to .68, but the rest have reliabilities above the The final two factors score below five but above the midpoint
conventionally accepted level of .70. The means range from of the scale (M = 4.77 and 4.69, respectively). Creative consists
4.69 to 6.50, closer to the “critical” than the “not critical” of three items suggesting clever or novel copy and illustra-
Winter 2006 29

TABLE 4
Perceptions of Factors Critical to Billboard Success
Standard Item Coefficient
Factor and items Meana deviation loadingb α

Name identification 6.50 .80 .62


Designing the billboard so our company or brand name registers quickly
with consumers 6.53 .94 .70
Prominently featuring the name of our company or the products and
services we offer 6.47 .94 .69
Location of billboard 6.33 .84 .68
The billboard is strategically located 6.56 .77 .64
The billboard is on a “prime site” 6.10 1.14 .90
Readability 6.33 .72 .71
Typeface that is well spaced and legible from a distance 6.62 .64 .77
Clear contrast between background, illustration, and copy 6.48 .83 .85
Using strong colors in the ad 6.12 1.12 .54
Using headlines that stand out in the ad 6.09 1.22 .50
Clarity 6.02 .95 .64
Making one single point effectively 6.17 1.12 .73
Using a simple background 6.01 1.17 .61
Using no more than seven or eight words in the copy 5.83 1.46 .57
Integrated marketing communications 5.24 1.51 .76
The message on the billboard must reinforce our advertising in other
media 5.43 1.60 .79
The billboard must be one part of a large communications plan designed
to achieve our company’s objectives 5.06 1.77 .78
Visuals 5.12 1.43 .82
Including a powerful visual image in the form of an illustration 5.23 1.69 .78
The visuals on the billboard are of a quality that is similar to a work
of art 5.08 1.64 .68
Making effective use of illustrations 5.04 1.67 .88
Creative 4.77 1.45 .82
Combining creative copy with a creative illustration 5.01 1.64 .79
Use of a clever slogan or phrase 4.76 1.72 .69
Using novel copy and/or illustrations 4.54 1.68 .87
Information 4.69 1.29 .77
The principal message clearly indicates the uniqueness of our product or
service 5.27 1.54 .57
Giving information about the benefits of our product 4.72 1.69 .65
Providing a specific reason why the consumer should use our products/
services 4.51 1.69 .86
The message describes specific advantages relative to our competition 4.29 1.78 .60
a
Respondents were asked to indicate which of the items were critical to the success of billboards that advertised their business. The response scale ranged
from 1 to 7, with 1 = not critical and 7 = critical.
b
From a principal axis factor analysis with oblique (promax) rotation. Correlations between factors range from −.02 to .62.

tions. Information comprises four items on the uniqueness or tion are influenced by three, two-way interactions: use × size,
advantages of the product or service. use × type, and size × type. Location is seen as less critical to
small nontravel companies that make heavy use of billboards
Moderator Effects (M = 6.06) and more critical to travel-related companies that
are small or use billboards extensively (M = 6.54). Other
Table 5 has the same format and interpretation as Table 3. combinations of the three factors rate location as intermediate
It indicates that six of the eight factors associated with suc- in importance.
cessful billboard advertising do not vary by billboard usage, Readability shows a single two-way interaction. It is
company size and type, or their interactions. Ratings of loca- somewhat more important for small travel-related companies
30 The Journal of Advertising

TABLE 5
Regression of Billboard Success Factors on Company Characteristics
Dependent Billboard Company Company Use × size
variable R2 use size type Use × size Use × type Size × type × type

Name ID .021 .05 −.02 .03 .04 .02 −.02 .06


Location .081** −.03 .04 .09 .14** .15** −.10* −.05
Readability .044* .07 –.00 .02 .08 .01 −.11* .02
Clarity .023 .09 .01 .02 −.06 .04 −.11 −.07
IMC .017 .14 .03 −.08 .08 .03 −.08 −.08
Visuals .020 −.10 −.05 .02 .07 −.04 −.11 −.01
Creative .017 .02 .01 −.09 .08 −.05 −.14 −.00
Information .012 −.05 −.03 −.02 −.01 .01 −.01 .15
Note: IMC = integrated marketing communications.
Entries for main effects and interactions are unstandardized regression coefficients for effects-coded indicator variables, interpreted as departures from the
overall mean controlling for the other predictors (e.g., heavy billboard use increases the importance of location by .14 for large companies, but reduces it
by .14 for small companies). P values for the coefficients are identical to those from three-way univariate ANOVAs (analyses of variance). All overall tests
have seven df and all factors and interactions have one df. Error df range from 325 to 330.
* p < .05.
** p < .01.

(M = 6.47) and large non–travel-related companies (M = 6.41) cance (p = .07), and the modification indices point to two groups
than for large travel-related companies (M = 6.24) or small that have noticeably different coefficients than the majority. For
non–travel-related companies (M = 6.20). large travel-related companies that make low use of billboards,
media efficiency has a strong negative effect on the importance
Research Questions 4 and 5 of billboard clarity. For small non–travel-related companies that
make high use of billboards, perceptions of local presence have
Addressing RQ4 and RQ5, Table 6 shows how perceptions of a negative effect on the importance of clarity. After these two
the success factors relate to the factors underlying the decision groups are removed from the total sample, the p value for the
to continue using billboards (RQ4) and how these relationships equality constraints on the regression coefficients indicates little
vary depending on company characteristics (RQ5). To address variation across the remaining six groups (p = .53).
both questions, the sample was divided into eight groups Three other success factors also show differing relationships
reflecting all combinations of high and low billboard usage, with the predictors across groups. The equality constraint for
small and large company size, and travel- versus non–travel- visuals is significant ( p = .01), and freeing coefficients in two
related companies. The overall results for RQ4 are shown in groups improves model fit substantially ( p ≤ .003). Media
the “total sample” line for each success factor, which gives the efficiency has a positive coefficient for large travel-related
unstandardized regression coefficients for the four predictor companies that make low use of billboards, and an even larger
variables, constrained to be equal across the groups. The p value coefficient in small travel-related companies with low usage.
for the χ2 test indicates whether or not the hypothesis of equal- For these companies, local presence has a negative coefficient.
ity across groups should be rejected, which is the initial test After these two groups are removed from the overall sample,
of RQ5. For additional evidence, LISREL modification indices local presence has a positive effect and media efficiency a nega-
were examined to find coefficients that differed significantly tive effect on visuals in the remaining groups.
in particular groups, even if the hypothesis of overall equality Information has only one group that departs from the
was not rejected. Because this examination involved 256 dif- majority. For large non–travel-related companies that use
ferent significant tests (four predictors × eight groups × eight few billboards, tangible response has a strong negative effect
dependent variables), almost 13 significant results could be on the importance of information. None of the predictors are
expected under the traditional .05 α level due simply to ran- significant in the remaining groups. Similarly, the reasons to
dom sampling error. Therefore, a more conservative .01 level use billboards have no effect on perceptions of IMC in the
was used for the supplemental tests. majority of the groups. Two groups are exceptions. In large
The overall results for clarity indicate that as visibility be- travel-related companies that use few billboards, visibility has
comes more important as a reason to continue using billboards, a positive effect on IMC as a billboard success factor. In large
clarity becomes more important to the success of billboards. The p non–travel-related companies that use few billboards, local
value for the equality constraint across groups approaches signifi- presence has a negative effect on IMC.
Winter 2006 31

TABLE 6
Regression of Success Factors on Reasons to Continue Using Billboards

Local Media
Dependent Change p for Tangible pres- Visi- effi-
variable χ2 df p in χ2 change Description n response ence bility ciency

Clarity 39.92 28 .07 Total sample 309 –.10 –.07 .18* .07
31.44 27 .25 8.48 .004 Low use/large/travel 50 –.10 –.07 .19* –.90**
24.73 26 .53 6.71 .010 High use/small/nontravel 15 –.11 –.52** .20** .07
All others 244 –.11 –.01 .20** .07
Readability 34.39 28 .19 Total sample 314 .21* –.08 .22** .05
Visuals 47.34 28 .01 Total sample 309 .02 .04 .19** –.05
38.31 27 .07 9.03 .003 Low use/large/travel 37 .01 .04 .19** .40*
20.16 25 .74 18.15 .000 Low use/small/travel 50 –.01 –.47** .16** .54**
All others 222 –.01 .14 .16** –.17*
Creative 32.14 28 .27 Total sample 309 .18** –.07 .01 .00
Name ID 26.25 28 .56 Total sample 314 –.10 .39** .20** –.11
Information 34.92 28 .17 Total sample 314 .07 .05 .00 .07
25.14 27 .58 9.78 .002 Low use/large/nontravel 15 –.90** .05 .02 .08
All other 299 .08 .05 .02 .08
Location 29.42 28 .39 Total sample 309 .24** .11 .18* –.12
IMC 32.69 28 .25 Total sample 314 .03 .11 .06 .00
24.09 27 .63 8.60 .003 Low use/large/travel 37 .00 .10 .47** .01
17.43 26 .90 6.66 .010 Low use/large/nontravel 15 .00 –.68* .03 .01
All other 262 .00 .12 .03 .01

Note: IMC = integrated marketing communications.


The last four columns are unstandardized regression coefficients produced in a multisample LISREL analysis. Samples represent the eight combinations of
high/low billboard use, large/small company size, and travel/nontravel businesses. Coefficients in the “total sample” and “all other” rows are constrained
to be equal across groups. One or more coefficients in the remaining rows vary significantly ( p < .01) from the other groups. Because the variance
explained differs across groups, even when the coefficients are constrained to be equal, R2 for the combined results is not meaningful.

For the remaining four success factors—readability, creative, attributes help billboards to be noticed and read rather than
name identification, and location—the regression coefficients screened out through the process of selective perception. Also
are consistent across all eight groups. Tangible response in- important are local presence and tangible response, which are
creases ratings of readability, creative, and location as billboard both related to retail gravity issues in media strategy. In other
success factors. Visibility increases ratings of readability, name words, billboards are often useful in reaching motorists near
identification, and location. Ratings of name identification are the time and place of a purchase decision, so these factors are
also increased by local presence. especially important to travel-related companies. Together,
the factors suggest that the ability to place attention-getting
DISCUSSION billboards close to the point of sale is an especially important
reason to use billboards. These features are consistent with the
This study draws on textbook discussions and journal ar- concept of recency planning, which suggests the need to expose
ticles, plus interviews with outdoor-advertising personnel, the message to the consumer when and where the consumer
to develop measures of factors that influence the decision to is ready to make a purchase.
continue using billboards and that are critical to billboards’ The factors perceived as being most critical to billboard
success. It confirms the importance of several factors through success involve clear, concise communication at an appropri-
a survey of businesses that are using or have used billboard ate location. Coordinating the message on billboards with
advertising. The findings also indicate the relative importance the company’s other advertising is lower in importance, and
of the various factors, show how perceptions of the billboard visuals, creative, and competitive information are lower still.
success factors are influenced by businesses’ reasons for using That is, companies are more concerned with using typeface,
billboards, and identify moderators of the variables and their contrast, color, and design to make the company or brand name
interrelationships. register effectively than they are with considerations that may
Visibility and media efficiency are the most important in- play a greater role in other media. Last-minute reminders of
fluences on the decision to continue using billboards. These an established brand name may be all many companies expect
32 The Journal of Advertising

of their billboards. Of course, billboards are not limited to companies when they are small or heavy users of billboards.
simple name identification. Chick-fil-A, for example, has used In either case, the company may rely on billboards—either
an eye-catching creative strategy by putting three-dimensional by making heavy use of them, or by not having the resources
cows and 48-foot-long “rubber chickens” on its billboards to to find effective media alternatives.
help position the chain as a likable alternative to other chains Companies that emphasize tangible response as a reason
(see www.richards.com). for using billboards also place greater weight on readability,
The reasons for using billboards influence perceptions of all location, and creative. Creative is the second-lowest rated of all
the success factors for at least some categories of respondents. the success factors, but companies appear to see it as helping
Visibility has the broadest effect, increasing the relevance of billboards affect people’s behavior. Emphasizing local pres-
clarity, readability, visuals, name identification, and location. ence as a reason for using billboards increases the importance
In essence, companies that want their billboards to be noticed of name identification. This connection is logical, because
are not satisfied with simply getting people’s attention; they reaching people close to the time and place of a purchase
believe they must be in the right place and get their message decision will not benefit the advertiser if the wrong name is
across clearly to be effective. Visibility also has a strong effect communicated. Conversely, emphasizing local presence reduces
on the importance of integrated marketing communications the importance of clarity, visuals, and integrated marketing
for large travel-related companies that are light users of bill- communications for certain categories of companies, but the
boards. For these companies, billboards are important as part groups are generally small and distinct in terms of billboard
of the overall communications effort rather than as a core usage, company size, and company type. Media efficiency has
advertising tool. a mix of positive and negative influences on visuals as a success
Company size and billboard usage moderate perceptions of factor. For large travel-related companies that make low use of
all four reasons for using billboards. In general, all the reasons billboards, media efficiency increases the importance of visuals
are more critical for small companies and heavier users. How- but reduces the importance of clarity, suggesting that these
ever, the use × size interaction leads to the greatest differences companies are more interested in illustrating their message
being observed for large companies that use few billboards. than in verbally communicating it.
These companies rate all four reasons above the midpoint of
the response scale on average, so they do not consider them to CONCLUSION
be unimportant. They may have larger advertising budgets and
more media options than smaller companies, or focus more on Previous survey research has presented evidence on companies’
the effects of their other advertising efforts, than companies experience with billboards, their perceptions of billboards
that use billboards extensively. versus other media, and their estimate of the impact of a
Unlike the reasons for using billboards, it is notable that billboard ban on sales (Taylor and Franke 2003). This study
the success factors are generally consistent across companies. focuses on companies’ reasons for using billboards and their
Regardless of company size and type and degree of billboard views on factors that are critical to billboards’ success. Future
usage, which influence the reasons for using billboards, com- research could add to the approaches of these studies in several
panies have common perceptions of appropriate billboard ways. Expanded surveys of nonusers or former users of bill-
characteristics. Experience presumably teaches businesses boards would provide a useful comparison to the perspectives
what works and does not work with billboards. Because of current billboard users and give additional insights on the
heavy and light users have similar perceptions, even lim- strengths and weaknesses of this form of outdoor advertising.
ited experience appears to be sufficient to shape companies’ For example, do nonusers value different advertising attributes
perceptions. Advertising agencies and outdoor-advertising than users, or do they have different beliefs about the ability
firms may also play a role by communicating the importance of billboards to provide visibility, media efficiency, local pres-
of the success factors to their clients. Two exceptions to the ence, and tangible response? Do users of other media such as
overall consistency are location and readability. The readabil- local radio or newspapers deal with selective perception and
ity effect has no clear interpretation, because it shows small retail gravity in a different way than billboard users, or do they
travel-related companies having views similar to those of have distinctive goals for their advertising, such as supporting
large non–travel-related companies, and large travel-related short-term sales promotions or communicating information
companies matching small non–travel-related ones. Given about a variety of products?
the number of effects reported in Table 5, this pattern may Qualitative research could probe more deeply into why
simply arise from sampling error. The influences on percep- companies feel as they do. For example, why is name identi-
tions of location are more plausible, because travel-related fication considered to be so much more critical to billboard
companies especially want to influence motorists close to the success than other forms of information? Why are the creative
point of sale. Location is most important to travel-related aspects of billboards given only a moderate rating, considering
Winter 2006 33

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——— (2004), “Sauce for the Outdoor Goose,” The Ephron Letter
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